I was channel-surfing the other day and stumbled across Woody Allen’s Play It Again, Sam, which opens with the last scene from Casablanca. The camera pulls back to reveal Allen watching the film in a small art house–the kind of theater of which Manhattan once had many, but now has only a few.
As I watched, I thought, I wonder how many people under the age of 45 saw Casablanca for the first time in a theater? I’m 47, and I first saw it in a Kansas City revival house a quarter-century ago, just prior to the introduction of home video recorders. Back then, seeing Casablanca anywhere was still a big deal: it didn’t get shown all that often on local TV stations, and there weren’t yet any cable networks devoted exclusively to old movies. Come to think of it, there weren’t any cable networks, period.
All of which led me to ask myself yet another unnerving question: how many people under the age of 45 have seen Casablanca at all?
When I was in college, Casablanca was one of the few pre-1960 movies of which everyone I knew was at least aware, whether they’d actually seen it or not. Old movies had yet to be made ubiquitous by the invention of the videocassette, making it a lot harder for any film to attain “iconic” status. I worshipped Bogart–everybody did–but I hadn’t seen many of his films, and while I still like Casablanca very much, it’s no longer the one I’d choose in order to introduce him to a young filmgoer. (Nowadays, I’d opt for In a Lonely Place or To Have and Have Not.) Nor would I be entirely surprised to learn that it no longer holds a privileged place in the hearts of Gen-X film buffs up to their ears in DVDs.
Still, I’d hate to think that my younger friends wouldn’t smile in recognition were I to drop a line from Casablanca into a casual conversation. No, it’s not a great film, not by a long shot, but it’s one of the most purely entertaining movies ever made, and its heart is in the right place. I know, I know, times change and tastes with them, but I’d like to think all my friends had seen Casablanca at least once. It’s the romantic in me.